As another golf season draws to a close, Sarah Stirk picks out her highlights of the best new course openings in 2016

With most of my travelling done for the year, now seems like a good time to reflect on some of the most talked about new golf course openings of 2016. Several are on my hit list for the months ahead, and I suggest they go on to yours too.

They are spread right across the world, and if The Bluffs in Vietnam was the opening of 2015, the list below includes designs from New Zealand, Australia, Estonia, Canada, and Malaysia, with some big name designers involved.

cabot-cliffsCabot Cliffs, Nova Scotia, Canada
The sister course to Cape Breton’s Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs officially opened this summer to much fanfare, and by all accounts the Bill Coore–Ben Crenshaw co-design has a chance to become one of the best courses in the world.

Situated about half a mile from the Links, the Cliffs occupies a more diverse site, sitting on top of a succession of bluffs that overlook the Gulf of St Lawrence, with fairways transitioning between woodland, wetland and meadowlands. Unusually, each nine offers an even mix of par threes, four and fives, while the ocean can be seen from every hole. The signature is undoubtedly the par-3 16th, which plays across the edge of the cliffs, although the designers are said to prefer the par-4 13th, which sweeps away from the ocean, and features a sizeable hump in front of the green.

Green Fees: $215,


the-els-club-desaru-coastThe Els Club, Desaru Coast, Malaysia

Located on the south east coast of Malaysia, a 90-minute drive from Singapore, The Els Club Desaru Coast is the second installment in the Els Club Malaysia portfolio. It joins The Els Club Teluk Datai under the banner, and looks to build on the successes achieved by its sister club in being awarded the World Golf Awards title of ‘The Best New Golf Course in the World’ in 2014.

The facility features the Ocean Course, a 27-hole layout designed by four-time Major champion Ernie Els. Encompassing three unique environments, the course meanders through natural wetlands and lakes as it makes its way through the spectacular natural rolling terrain set alongside the South China Sea.

And second 18-holer, the Valley Course, is being co-designed by Els’ fellow Major champion, Vijay Singh, while there’s also a 9-hole course designed for all the family – the Little Easy – and an Els Performance Academy.

rio-courseThe Olympic Course, Barra da Tijuca, Brazil

After much controversy over land rights and environmental concerns, the Olympic course played host to a fabulous Olympic Games and produced a golden performance from Justin Rose.

Reclaimed from land used for sand mining and part of the Marapendi nature reserve, Gil Hanse’s design enjoys a low-lying seaside plot on the edge of Rio and features no trees or typical rough. Instead, balls that run beyond the fairways end up in native areas of grass and sand. In addition, there are 79 bunkers, which are unquestionably the most dramatic features on the course.

With wind a constant factor, the 7,128-yard course is very reminiscent of one of Hanse’s other spectacular creations, Castle Stuart in Scotland, with lots of run offs around the greens, while Rose compared the course to the Australian sandbelt courses around Melbourne – which is high praise indeed.

The final three holes are superbly designed for maximum drama, with the 16th being a 300-yard drivable par four; the 17th a tricky little 130-yard par three; and the 18th is a demanding 570-yard par five, which proved very hard to reach in two.

Immediately after Games, the course was transferred over to the Brazilian Golf Federation, where they will develop an academy and work on getting the locals more involved – while it looks certain to host more tournaments, both amateur and professional, in the future.

Green Fees: £60,

bluejack-nationalBluejack National, USA

While Tiger Woods hasn’t had much luck in reigniting his playing career, all that time off has at least allowed the former world No.1 to indulge his growing passion for golf course design.

And following hot on the heels of the success of his first design at El Cardonal at Mexico’s Diamante Resort, which opened at the end of 2014, Woods has opened his first US course at BlueJack National in Houston, Texas.

Using a long-since closed course which Ben Crenshaw started but never finished, Woods worked alongside professional architect Beau Welling to create a course that is surprisingly hilly for the Houston area, with the layout featuring plenty of elevation changes, punctuated by rippling lakes, stately pines and native Bluejack oaks, all of which give it a  feel similar to Augusta National – which is fine by my book!

parnu-bayParnu Bay, Estonia

This sandy seaside site, 75 miles south of Tallinn, is the first links-style course in the Baltics. The layout was designed by Lassi Pekka Tilander, and shaped by Mick McShane, the man behind St Andrews Links’ Castle Course and the much-loved Kingsbarns. The course features wide fairways and expansive sand areas, as well as multi-leveled greens with plenty of movement.

Pärnu Bay also boasts a five-hole short course – a familiar trend for new openings to attract the younger generation – while the stylish modernist clubhouse, located at the highest point on the estate, features huge floor-to-ceiling windows for stunning 360-degree views over the course.

And for 2017….

Looking ahead to next year, there is considerable hype already surrounding two new developments, which I’m keeping a close eye on. The Black Course at Streamsong in Central Florida, designed by Gil Hanse, will be the third layout at the resort. I reviewed Streamsong in one of my previous columns, and it’s without doubt one of my favourite golfing destinations. The plan is for up to six courses, by which time it will undoubtedly rival the likes of Bandon Dunes.

Talking of which, Sand Valley in Wisconsin is also coming along nicely, and the two courses, designed by Coore and Crenshaw and David McLay Kidd respectively, are set to open in 2017. It’s set to be the Bandon of the Midwest. I hope that has whetted your appetite – plenty to plan for the year ahead!

Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahSkySports

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